Groggily, Nelson and I boarded a microbus and we headed out for the Tikal National Park. I most definitely knocked out on the ride there and only awoke once we arrived at the main gate.
At the gate, we were greeted by the park employee, Boris. Boris insisted that despite his Russian name, he was 100% Guatemalan and a native of Flores. After an energetic introduction, Boris collected park entry fees from all those aboard the bus.
The Tikal National Park costs $20 for foreigners to enter, one of the most expensive entry fees I’ve paid for anything in Latin America, but it was definitely well worth it.
Now, the hostel offered a tour service for an additional $20, but it’s getting to the end of my trip and I’m trying to conserve money where I can. Luckily, Boris was a very amiable guy and also I think pleased with the fact that we spoke Spanish, so he invited us on his tour with him free of charge.
Following some quick coffee at the park’s only restaurant, The Jaguar Inn, we headed into the park and amongst the ruins. The first pyramid we came across was out in the middle of clearing and had some large, round stones sitting in front of it. Boris informed us that these are were sacrifices and offerings were made on feast/ritual days, which was the primary purpose of Tikal.
We continued into another clearing to a couple of more temples were I learned that the Mayans used limestone and cement to construct all their temples. Unlike the pyramids of Europe, the pyramids at Tikal didn’t require generations and generations of workers to make. Because the limestone bricks were cut smaller and weigh less, a temple could be constructed in only a couple years.
As we walked around the park, the pyramids seemed to just keep getting bigger and bigger. One can’t help but feel awestruck when walking around these structures created hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
The next stop on the tour was the famous Temple IV. While most of the exterior is still under construction, visitors the park are still allowed to climb to the tob of Temple IV as it is the highest temple in the park and offers an incredible view.
Temple IV is also quite famous thanks to Mr. George Lucas. In the original Star Wars, Temple IV is used as the site of the Rebel base on the planet of Yavin IV before the attack on the Death Star is made (nerd alert). The six-year-old within me hurried up the steps with glee, for as much as working in Hollywood may have jaded me from these kind of things, Star Wars is still Star Wars.
The view from above Temple IV is incredible. The tall stone structures poke out over the Guatemalan jungle and the early morning mist pours out over the horizon. It is probably one of the most beautiful vistas I’ve ever laid my eyes on.
From the view of Temple IV, Boris chronologically led us to Tikal’s massively impressive Temple V. Previously, visitors to Tikal were allowed to Temple V, bue due to some accidents and some recent innovations it is currently undergoing, this is no longer the case. However, Boris decided to bend the rules for whatever reason and allowed us to climb Temple V on some suspicious looking stairs.
The climb up was fine and definitely put my calf muscles to work. Several of the other tourists made statements of safety concerns and wondering if we were all just stupid for even doing this in the first place, but I just reasoned that I came all the way out here to Guatemala to see some Mayan ruins and I was going to take full advantage of every opportunity that came my way. After all, there’s a thin line between caution and paranoia.
At the top, I could see the main square and much of the park from another amazing view. It’s incredible to think what it must have been like to be a traveler hundreds of years ago and to come across these architectural marvels.
For whatever reason, I found myself drawn to examine the texture of the pyramids themselves while atop Temple V. The view, of course, is amazing, but my focus shifted to how each and every little pebble and stone contributed its part to give this scenic gift me. Or, perhaps, I just didn’t want to look down. We were pretty high up.
I won’t like and say that the climb down didn’t scare me. I got pretty terrified knowing that one misstep or miscalculation would send me hurtling to my death, but I was had already climbed up and had no other option but to see myself down. One of my biggest goals of traveling has been to conquer fear in all its inceptions and here was one other opportunity to do just that and surprise myself. I was glad to reach solid ground again.
After catching my breath and collecting myself a bit, Boris led us from Temple V to biggest area in Tikal: the main plaza. After some parting words, Boris left us to explore the two large temples, living quarters and other ruins.
After being led on a guided tour, I enjoyed the opportunity to climb and explore all on my own. While at Tikal, I found myself in a state of perpetual fascination, fascination at the architecture, fasciation with the Mayan culture and fascination with the fact that I was actually there and walking amongst these ruins.
One of my favorite pieces at Tikal is a Mayan carving found in a substructure within the main plaza. There is an intricate care taken in the design and line patterns in the work that is one of the most appealing aspects of the Mayan/Aztec artistic aesthetic.
While no one is allowed to climb Temple I, and it’s heavily guarded ensuring no one will do so, we did climb Temple II to get another perspective of the plaza. This climb is much easier than Temples IV or V and the view from atop offers a satisfying, conclusive feeling to the entire Tikal experience.
As Nelson and I headed back down the path towards the park entrance and to our bus ride back to Flores, it started to drizzle lightly. The water felt refreshing after all the hiking and climbing, but also the cloudy, melancholy atmosphere seemed fitting as we prepared to leave this great place.
The bus back was bumpy and cramped, but I didn’t really mind. The driver blasted some Juan Gabriel and I was still riding the high of getting to see a place in the world I always dreamed of going to.